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2004 Athens Summer Olympics
Too Hot for US TV

January 27, 2005

What can make nine complaints to the FCC noteworthy? A response. No one really noticed that a few days before Christmas, the FCC had published the nine complaints on its website that it received against NBC’s Olympics Coverage for indecency. It wouldn’t have been easy for someone to have found these complaints on the FCC’s website. (As a former telecom lawyer, I even had problems finding it, and I had been on that site hundreds of times in the past few years.) But when Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the president of the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee, had her commentary published in last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times it wouldn’t be long until the casual observer was reminded that the FCC had started an investigation into the indecency of NBC’s Olympics telecast. As ridiculous as these complaints are when you read them, Daskalaki’s response only adds to the ridiculousness of the situation.

Only two of the nine complaints offered anything actionable or remotely worthy of a fine for NBC. Both mentioned that someone dropped the F-bomb during a volleyball match. A six second tape delay, giving the producers enough time to either bleep out or mute the word, would have been wise and completely appropriate, given that there was no semblance or illusion that even the live sports were being shown live. One of the complaints states that the same word was heard during the Opening Ceremonies. Impossible. Unless it was coming from Katie Couric or Bob Costas, both of whom I would consider incapable of using that word, there was no way anyone could have heard it because you couldn’t hear anything due to the poor audio mixing. What more likely happened was that someone who was watching the Opening Ceremonies with the person who filed the complaint, exclaimed, “What the f---?” at the sight of the glowing stomach of the pregnant woman, and that’s the profanity they heard. If the FCC really wanted to go after profanity, they should have hired a Greek speaker to translate the coach’s tirade during one of the timeouts of the USA-Greece men’s volleyball semifinal.

The remainder of the complaints centered on the Opening Ceremonies. One complaint read that there was an exposed breast during the Opening Ceremony. After all the fuss over last year’s Super Bowl halftime show, the American viewer’s radar would have been so sensitive to something like that would have had people calling their friends and rewinding it on their DVRs to the point where everyone would have been talking about it on Monday morning. The other complaints about the Opening Ceremonies were about the young lovers running around in the water, which was pretty tame compared to the TV-14 version they showed on Greek television. The final complaint was about the anatomically correct male statue that emerged from the large marble slab. This was about as obscene as a trip to a museum.

The lunacy of these complaints simply didn’t warrant any official Greek response, much less the one that Daskalaki sent into the LA Times. Her stated reason for writing this letter was that if NBC was punished for airing the opening ceremonies, which in her opinion “in reality depicted Greek contributions to civilization — it would, in effect, label a presentation of our [Greek] culture on your [American] airwaves as ‘indecent.’” If she just mentioned the complaint about the male statue, this letter may have been okay. Daskalaki correctly explained, “we represented the Greek sculpture people see in museums, realistic human beings as God made them.” She advised the FCC not “punish NBC or Greece for accurately portraying Greek culture in your living rooms.” While I agree with that concept in theory, in reality, the things that she mentioned are as loosely connected to Greek culture as the Windex in MBFGW. Daskalaki tried to defend the showing of “a couple enjoying their love of the Greek sea and each other” and “the history of Eros, the god of love,” adding that, “turning love, yearning and desire into a deity is an important part of our contribution to civilization.” All I saw was a gratuitous escapade thrown in by the producers of the Opening Ceremonies to break up the intellectuality of it all. And as for creating Eros, if we have the Greeks to thank for creating something for the Romans to copy in the form of Cupid, ultimately leading to the commercialization of love through candy hearts, flowers, and cards, I’m not sure if she should be spending too much effort in equating that with Greek contributions in science, math, government and the arts.

Despite all of this attention, it is doubtful that anything will come of these complaints, particularly with FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s surprise resignation last week and all the focus on the planned commercials for the upcoming Super Bowl and measures taken by the Fox Network, and others to sanitize their current line up of shows. Even if it does, Greeks would be better served not to add any legitimacy to these complaints by discussing them further in any sort of official capacity.


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